27,000 members of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) union shut down Boeing, the nation’s largest aircraft maker, Sept. 6 as they formed picket lines at all company facilities in Washington state, Oregon and Kansas.

The strike began after the union, at the request of the governor of Washington and federal mediators, participated in a 48 hour attempt to resolve issues.

“The absence of job security language was the key reason members rejected the final company offer,” said International President Tome Buffenbarger, just minutes after the strike began at 3 a.m. ET.
The shutdown is the second major strike at Boeing in three years.

“We’ve learned its not enough to have a good-paying job if the job can disappear at any time,” Buffenbarger said.

The IAM, one of the largest industrial unions in the U.S., represents 700,000 workers in the airline, aerospace, manufacturing, woodworking, and shipbuilding industries.

Shutting down of the nation’s largest aircraft maker potentially amounts to the most serious challenge to big business in the last ten years.

The union says it was necessary because Boeing tried to force workers to accept changes in contract language that would eliminate job security and free the company to sharply increase the amount of work it outsources. The company also sought to increase substantially the out-of-pocket health care costs workers pay, according to the union.

The company also violated contractual rules by trying to circumvent the union and go directly to some workers who have better pay and seniority and make offers to them on the side, according to union sources.

“The details of the company offer are details we can’t live with,” said Connie Kelliher, a union spokeswoman. Kelliher said that workers have told the union “again and again” that even the best pay and benefits are no good if “they are not on the payroll tomorrow.”

Workers voted 80 percent against the company’s final offer and 87 percent in favor of a strike.
The strike is delaying delivery of the fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliner jets, which are in strong demand by airlines dealing with the high price of fuel.

The union says Boeing can afford to meet its demands because profits are up and the company is growing due to filling of worldwide orders for new aircraft. A union source said the company is hiring more than 25 workers a day and that this is one of the reasons it is anxious to slash job security.

Although some Boeing workers with seniority make $27 per hour, new workers are hired for less than $9 an hour. The company would like to keep them down at that level, the source said.

Meanwhile, the regularly scheduled IAM convention is opening in Orlando, Fla. with Hillary Clinton expected to speak on Sept. 8. The union is one of the few that has not officially endorsed Barack Obama’s presidential bid. Clinton is expected to urge that endorsement when she speaks to the Machinists.